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Is this the end of freshman art history? Or, lessons from the pandemic

April 21, 2020
Ryan Richardson

Like millions of other college students over the last 60 or so years, my college career started with freshman Art History. 

Twice per week that first semester of college, I’d trudge across campus for the 8:30 a.m. class. Joined by a couple hundred other freshmen, we’d sit in a darkened auditorium as the professor would project classic works of art onto a large screen and describe the history of each one.

The lectures didn’t seem to be customized, dynamic, or unique. They were probably repeated, more or less word for word, each year to a new freshmen class. The class was a lecture; there was no Q&A, discussion, or any interaction at all. I’m still not exactly sure from where the professor delivered the lectures, but it was rare to actually catch a glimpse of him. There was no roll call and it’s doubtful the professor even knew the names of those taking the class. 

As concern over COVID-19 intensified and precautionary measures increased, countless organizations have begun to grapple with how to adapt to a time of sheltering at home, self quarantining, and social distancing. They are rediscovering and realizing what matters to keep customers engaged, much like the lessons I learned from my Art History class.

Lesson 1: Interaction Matters

Gyms were some the first businesses to close as COVID-19 spread through communities. Initially, many group fitness instructors live streamed their classes.

The instructors quickly found that their good intentions had difficulties – poor lighting, echoing sound, awkward framing, and maintaining live broadcasts at normal class times although their clients’ schedules had gone awry. Another problem they faced was competing with the already existing and mature industry of workout videos; exercise streaming services allow people to take any class at any time, following along with slickly produced videos. 

Others, including the dance studio my children attend, found success by making meaningful interactions. Instead of just broadcasting or recording dance classes, akin to the workout video model, they use video chat technology and maintain two-way communication. Dancers ask questions and instructors watch and give instruction on form, steps, and the routines. 

Lesson 2: Personal Connections Matter

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received numerous emails and calls from organizations stating how they are dealing with the COVID-19 situation, with many asking for support. Most of these people and/or organizations I hadn’t heard from for an extended period of time, and often times needed a reminder of who they were/what they did. 

Personal connections have always been important. We are more at ease placing our trust in those we feel we know. This may be a shopkeeper or sales rep we’ve worked with, or an organization that prioritizes authentic and meaningful communication.These personal relationships, that consisted of what seems like a continual conversation, were where support was quickly offered and accepted. 

Lesson 3: Community Matters

Seemingly overnight, amidst business changes because of COVID-19, the movement to support small businesses was put into hyperdrive. 

Communities sprung into action to patronize and organically promote small businesses and ones with strong connections to the communities in which they operate. The deep reservoirs of goodwill these organizations had established with their communities meant their communities naturally rose up to support them and show appreciation for the dynamic, adaptive, and personal ways the organizations have served them. Some of these companies have been so overwhelmed with community support that they have been barely able to keep up with fulfilling orders. 

Soon the pandemic will end, and organizations will go back to business as usual. Gyms parking lots will once again fill up, commerce will rebound, and communities will chat about more than the latest COVID-19 prediction model.

In any crisis, lessons can be learned to make tomorrow better. Many are now discovering or rediscovering the importance of interactions, personal connections, collaboration and community.

As it was, my entire freshman Art History course could have been recorded by a professor anywhere in the world and made available for anyone on Earth with an internet connection to watch at their leisure. Take the time to make sure your clients, prospects, and connections know what about your business is unique, that you understand their needs, and that you truly care about making them successful. 

Ryan Richardson is the Director of Media at Risdall Marketing Group and has a deep appreciation for classical art.

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